WASH­ING­TON—A fed­eral judge is tem­po­rar­ily block­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s plan to ex­e­cute the first fe­male death row in­mate in al­most six decades af­ter her at­tor­neys con­tracted the coron­avirus vis­it­ing her in prison.

The or­der, handed down Thurs­day by US District Judge Ran­dolph Moss in Wash­ing­ton, pro­hibits the fed­eral Bureau of Prisons from car­ry­ing out Lisa Mont­gomery’s ex­e­cu­tion be­fore the end of the year. She was sched­uled to be put to death on De­cem­ber 8 at the fed­eral prison com­plex in Terre Haute, In­di­ana.

Mont­gomery’s at­tor­neys had sought to de­lay the ex­e­cu­tion in or­der to file a clemency pe­ti­tion on her be­half. The lawyers, Kel­ley Henry and Amy Har­well, who are based in Nashville, Ten­nessee, tested pos­i­tive for Covid- 19 af­ter they flew to visit her at a Texas prison last month. In court pa­pers, they said each roundtrip visit from Nashville in­volved two flights, ho­tel stays and in­ter­ac­tion with air­line and ho­tel staff, as well as prison em­ploy­ees.

Mont­gomery’s le­gal team has ar­gued that their client suf­fers from se­ri­ous men­tal ill­nesses and can’t as­sist in fil­ing her own clemency pe­ti­tion, in part be­cause all of her clothes have been taken away and she’s been left only with a “sheet of pa­per and a sin­gle crayon” in her cell, at­tor­ney Sandra Bab­cock said in court this week.

Both Henry and Har­well have se­ri­ous symp­toms from the virus and are “func­tion­ally in­ca­pac­i­tated” and thus un­able to help file a clemency pe­ti­tion, Bab­cock said. An­other at­tor­ney couldn’t be as­signed to file one be­cause Mont­gomery’s men­tal sta­tus has de­te­ri­o­rated since the Jus­tice Depart­ment sched­uled her ex­e­cu­tion last month and she doesn’t trust many lawyers, but Henry and Har­well have worked with her for years and have gained her trust, Bab­cock ar­gued.

In his rul­ing, Moss said that if the ex­e­cu­tion moves for­ward as sched­uled, Mont­gomery would “lose her statu­tory right to mean­ing­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion by coun­sel in the clemency process.” He said the lawyers should file a clemency pe­ti­tion by De­cem­ber 24, or bring on other lawyers to as­sist.

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